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Lean but mean

[ 2010-03-12 11:52]     字号 [] [] []  
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Lean but mean

Reader question:

Please explain “lean and mean” in this sentence: The Philippines ambassador to China hopes the Asian Games will further strengthen ties between the two nations and promises that his country will field a team that is lean but mean.

My comments:

It means the Philippines intend to send a small but efficient squad to compete in the upcoming Asian Games in Guangzhou in November, 2010.

To put the whole thing in context, the Philippines, according to a brief search online, is going to send a 50-man delegation to the Asian Games. That is a small number in comparison with the number of athletes from other countries. Hosts China, for instance, is expected to field a team that is ten times larger in number, and hopefully in efficiency also.

Now, definitions. “Lean but mean” is a variation from the more commonplace “lean and mean” – an American idiom that means fit (lean) and efficient (mean).

Somebody who is lean is without the excess of fat. In other words they’re thin – with mostly muscles. “Mean” here means not nasty (as in, mean spirited) but excellent. In colloquialism, when we say, for example, that Roger Federer has a mean backhand, we mean to say that the world No. 1 tennis player whips an excellent backhand passing shot, to compliment an equally good forehand.

Figuratively, when “lean and mean” is used to describe something, such as an industry or a government organ, it means it’s streamlined and efficient.

In short, it’s generally a good term to use to describe someone who’s likely to work hard and succeed because, instead of being fat and lazy, they are lean and keen.

In the final analysis, “lean” and “mean” rhyme with each other, and that just might have been the reason they were stringed together in the first place.

Here are media examples:

1. Overall I averaged close on 65 miles per gallon over almost 100 miles of mixed driving - not as good as the official figure but nevertheless acceptable. Compared to rivals such as the BMW 1 Series or Volvo C30 and the economy of the A3 is class leading...

Elsewhere in the Audi range stop/start systems are now available on the A4 and A5 models and although leaner and meaner than conventional versions the tax advantages are not as great as on the A3.

- Lean and mean Audi averages almost 70mpg, RoadRecord.co.uk, November 2, 2009.

2. Glyn Hodges has warned his bright young reserves that their summer and pre-season training will be even tougher than the exacting programme that City’s senior squad will undergo to get into shape.

Mark Hughes’ preparation for a new campaign is renowned as probably the most demanding in the Premier League, although his players admitted they felt the benefit during the last weeks of their long-haul season.

But reserve coach Hodges has sent his proteges away for their summer break with strict instructions to watch their diet and fitness in readiness for an arduous build-up to the new season starting in August.

Hughes’ players will be back at Carrington as early as the first week of July before heading to a training camp in Germany, but Hodges revealed: “We’ll be back in two days before the first team.

“It’s a big group and there’s some testing to be done, then we’ll be back in full training. It’s important for my boys, especially the ones coming up from the Under-18s.

“They have got to bridge the gap now, from the Academy to playing with the pros. They have to work harder, and at a younger age you can improve more in the summer months than you do when you're a little bit older.

“I’ve not said don’t have a holiday - everybody deserves that, none more so than these lads after the hard work they put in this season. But I’m hoping they come back lean and mean and hungry to do well.

“It’s a very good group and I'm looking forward to working with them again. We’d like to think one or two of them will be staking a claim to getting on the first-team trips. That’s what they should be aiming for now.”

- Come back lean and mean, says Glyn, June 5, 2009.



About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.


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